South Africa says third COVID-19 wave has passed its peak

Residents in a waiting area at a mass vaccination site in the Midrand district of Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 8, 2020. (WALDO SWIEGERS / BLOOMBERG)

NAIROBI / LONDON / SANTIAGO / ATHENS / BERLIN / MEXICO CITY / LISBON / BUENOS AIRES / RIO DE JANEIRO / GABORONE / DAR ES SALAAM / JOHANNESBURG / HAVANA / ZAGREB / RABAT / WINDHOEK / QUITO / DUBLIN / ADDIS ABABA / BUDAPEST / MOSCOW – South Africa’s government said a third wave of coronavirus infections has passed its peak, a development that could give it scope to ease a ban on alcohol sales and other restrictions.

The country recorded 14,858 new cases in the past 24 hours, down from 16,240 the day before, indicating the pandemic was “on a downward trend,” acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi told reporters in Pretoria, the capital, on Friday. There were 4,998 new cases in the central Gauteng province, the epicenter of the latest outbreak, down from a peak of more than 16,000, she said.

The National Coronavirus Command Council is due to meet on July 25 to discuss whether to review prevailing curbs, including bans on alcohol sales and leisure travel in and out of Gauteng, and a night-time curfew. President Cyril Ramaphosa will likely communicate any changes in a televised address that night.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said it was probing the deaths of 28 people who apparently died after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine jabs.

The study would be conducted to determine if these fatalities were directly linked to the vaccination in the country, which is administering US vaccines, including Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

The move came after the SAHPRA on Wednesday told parliamentarians that there were reports of breakthrough infections after people were inoculated with Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 

SAHPRA said they have received 3,730 reports of adverse events following immunization, and 279 reports of what it terms adverse events of special interest.

READ MORE: 'Pingdemic' grips Britain as fears of food shortages grow

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 192.57 million while the global death toll topped 4.13 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Pfizer

A longer gap between doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine leads to higher overall antibody levels than a shorter gap, a British study found on Friday, but antibody levels are not sustained for long after the first dose.

The study might help inform vaccination strategies against the Delta variant, which reduces the effectiveness of a first dose of the vaccine even though two doses are still protective, and one author said that Britain's eight-week gap was a "sweet spot" against Delta.

The authors emphasised that either dosing schedule produced a strong antibody and T-cell response in the study of 503 healthcare workers.

"For the longer dosing interval … neutralising antibody levels against the Delta variant were poorly induced after a single dose, and not maintained during the interval before the second dose," the authors of the study, which is being led by the University of Oxford, said.

"Following two vaccine doses, neutralising antibody levels were twice as high after the longer dosing interval compared with the shorter dosing interval."

Neutralising antibodies are thought to play an important role in immunity against the coronavirus, but are not the whole picture, with T-cells also playing a part.

The study found overall T-cell levels were 1.6 times lower with a long gap compared with the short dosing interval of 3-4 weeks, but that a higher proportion were "helper" T-cells, which support long-term immune memory, with the long gap.

EU

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine could become the second shot okayed for adolescent use in the European Union after regulators on Friday recommended approving it for 12- to 17-year-olds.

Use of the vaccine, Spikevax, will be the same in adolescents as in people over 18, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said, adding the shot produced a comparable antibody response to that seen in 18- to 25-year-olds.

Vaccinating children has been considered important for reaching herd immunity and in light of the highly contagious Delta variant. Moderna in May said its vaccine was found to be safe and effective in teenagers.

The EMA said the two-dose vaccine is given four weeks apart, and its human medicines committee's recommendation was based on a study of 3,732 participants.

Most children with COVID-19 develop only mild symptoms or none. Yet children remain at risk of becoming seriously ill and can spread the virus. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech's vaccine was approved for teen use in May. 

Africa

Global pharmaceutical firms should license production of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa rather than just do piecemeal contract deals, an African Union (AU) special envoy said on Thursday.

AU coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa was speaking a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced a "fill and finish" deal with South Africa's Biovac Institute under which it will carry out the final stages of vaccine manufacturing where the product is processed and put into vials.

READ MORE: Pfizer inks deal to produce 100m shot doses for Africa

"We want to make clear to all suppliers … if you want a long-term future with us now, you produce from Africa," Masiyiwa said.

African countries must go all out and speed up their vaccine rollouts by 5 to 6 times if they are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10 percent of their people by the end of September.

Matshidiso Moeti, Head of the World Health Organization in Africa

Africa, which is battling a third wave of infections, has administered just 60 million vaccine doses in a population of 1.3 billion due to restrictions on shipments from vaccine producing nations like India.

Matshidiso Moeti, the head of the World Health Organization in Africa, called for local production of vaccines so Africa can tackle future outbreaks.

"African countries must go all out and speed up their vaccine rollouts by 5 to 6 times if they are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10 percent of their people by the end of September," Moeti said.

She said that about 60 million doses are set to arrive in Africa in the coming weeks including donations from several countries and purchases through the COVAX Facility. Moeti said more than half a billion doses procured through COVAX are expected to arrive in Africa this year.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson is on track to supply members of the AU with 400 million vaccine doses by September next year, Masiyiwa said. Around 6 million doses will be delivered to 27 nations that have paid their share through the end of August, Masiyiwa said.

Deliveries will rise to an average of 10 million a month from September, increasing to 20 million in January until the order is fulfilled by September next year.

The balance of Africa's vaccine requirements will come from donors including COVAX, Masiyiwa said, adding that local production is the real answer.

As of Thursday afternoon, Africa has reported 6,335,702 cases and 160,648 deaths, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.A medical worker shows a vial of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 13, 2021. (MICHAEL TEWELDE / XINHUA)

Chile

Chile’s government will relax some international travel restrictions three months after a surge in cases forced authorities to close the borders.

As of July 26, fully-vaccinated residents will be able to travel from Chile by plane without special permission, health undersecretary Paula Daza said Thursday. Upon return, they will be allowed to complete a 10-day quarantine at home.

Returning travelers who have either not received both doses or live more than five hours away from Santiago’s international airport, the sole point of entry, will have to complete the quarantine at a designated hotel at their own expense. The borders will remain closed to most non-resident foreigners.

Chile has fully vaccinated 78.34 percent of its target population against COVID-19, or 11,908,045 people, the Ministry of Health said.

In the last 24 hours, Chile reported 1,861 new COVID-19 infections and 181 deaths, bringing the country's total to 1,604,713 cases and 34,792 deaths.

Uganda

Uganda has added herbal remedies to treatments it recommends for the coronavirus even before concluding clinical trials as it battles a surge in cases driven by the delta variant.

The government gave two hectares of land to Jena Herbals Ltd. to immediately build a factory and ramp up production of its Covidex product, the Uganda Investment Authority said Wednesday. The substance contains extracts of berberine and zanthoxylum gilletii plants used as supplements and treatments of viral ailments. Gulu University in northern Uganda is expecting 3.7 billion shillings (US$1 million) from the national treasury to support the development of a different solution called Covilyce.

Covidex acts by supposedly preventing virus growth and has anti-inflammatory effects, according to information on the website of a Covidex distributor, Rocket Health.

The government has moved to support clinical trials on the herbal remedies to obtain reliable data on the efficacy, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Monica Musenero said in an interview last week.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Uganda has more than doubled, while the death tally climbed more than six-fold since May 26, according to data from the Health Ministry. Cases so far stood at 91,162 and 2,425 deaths on July 19.

EU

Europe's medicines regulator said on Thursday it had added a rare nerve-degenerating disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, as a possible rare side effect from Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine after it reviewed 108 cases reported worldwide.

"After assessing the available data, PRAC considered that a causal relationship between COVID-19 vaccine Janssen and GBS is possible," the European Medicines Agency said, referring to its safety committee, PRAC.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 2,089 to 3,752,592, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday. The reported death toll rose by 34 to 91,492, the tally showed.

German pharmacies have stopped issuing digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates after hackers created passes from fake outlets, the industry association said on Thursday, the latest blow to the inoculation drive.

Germans who have been fully vaccinated are entitled to a certificate which allows them more freedoms, especially to travel. Pharmacies and vaccination centres issue them.

The German Pharmacists' Association (DAV) said hackers had managed to produce two vaccination certificates by accessing the portal and making up pharmacy owner identities. DAV were alerted to the fact by the Handelsblatt newspaper.

"The DAV, in consultation with the Health Ministry, stopped issuing certificates on Wednesday to investigate further," said the association in a statement, adding it had so far found no other indication of unauthorised access to the portal.

In another development, Germany plans to declare Spain and the Netherlands COVID-19 high risk areas, meaning that incoming travellers who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine, the Funke group of newspapers reported on Thursday.

Russia

Russia reported 23,811 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including 3,425 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 6,078,522.

The government coronavirus task force said 795 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 152,296.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Russia would resolve delays in deliveries of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to Argentina, but that its priority was to satisfy demand at home.

Argentina, one of the first countries to use Sputnik V widely, has complained that delays in the arrival of second doses are holding back its vaccination campaign.

US

The recent rise in COVID-19 cases shows no signs of abating in the US states that have fueled the uptick as the Delta variant proliferates.

The seven-day average of new cases in the US is up 53 percent over the previous week, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday. The Delta variant, which was first found in India, now comprises more than 80 percent of new cases nationwide and has been detected in more than 90 countries.

Some hospitals around the US are reaching their capacity limits as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge, Walensky said.

The uptick in cases is concentrated in regions with lower vaccination rates. Florida, Texas and Missouri account for 40 percent of all new cases nationwide, with around 1 in 5 of all new US cases occurring in Florida, White House COVID-19 task for director Jeffrey Zients said.

Nationally, cases are likely to rise to 306,909 for the week ending Aug 14, up 39 percent from last week, according to an ensemble of CDC forecasts.

Florida rates are seen climbing to 62,744 cases per week, more than half the state’s winter peak. The trend looks similar in Missouri, where the governor this week announced a new vaccine incentive program.

The CDC has not revised its masking guidance, even as the Delta variant sweeps the US, Walensky said.

Meanwhile, the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh its risks after reports of a rare immune-system disorder, according to data presented during an advisory meeting scheduled by the CDC Thursday.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, discussed COVID-19 vaccine safety, including the possible risks from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, in which the immune system attacks the nerves.

CDC advisers are also due consider evidence suggesting that a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection among people with compromised immune systems.

Greece

Greece said on Thursday all unvaccinated restaurant and tourism workers nationwide must undergo regular COVID-19 tests, extending an obligation that previously applied only on some popular holiday islands as case numbers have continued to climb.

Following a renewed spike in COVID infections in recent weeks due to the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, Greece last week ordered testing twice a week for unvaccinated workers in restaurants and tourism companies on some of the country's main holiday islands in an effort to save its summer season.

The same rule will now apply to workers in these sectors across Greece, Deputy Citizen's Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said at a weekly briefing. "Our aim is that our country continues to send the message that it has been and will remain a safe tourist destination."

Hardalias said that the situation in Mykonos has slightly improved and that authorities will decide on extending or lifting the measures in the next coming days.

Greece reported 2,604 cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 469,042 since the pandemic broke out last year. Some 12,875 have died of COVID-related complications so far.

Italy

Italy will restrict many leisure activities for citizens who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 or haven’t recently tested negative for the virus, amid a surge of delta variant infections.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet decided on Thursday that a so-called green pass will be required to dine indoors or to enter crowded venues such as theaters, stadiums, cinemas, gyms or museums. The passes are currently given to people who have received one shot, have recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative in the last 48 hours.

”The use of vaccine certificates is needed to keep the economy open,” Draghi said at a press conference. “An invitation not to get vaccinated is an invitation to die, or to let others die. No vaccines mean a new lockdown.”

The country registered 5,057 new infections on Thursday, more than double the number a week earlier.

On Thursday, the government also tweaked the thresholds that automatically trigger business restrictions and partial lockdowns on a regional basis, focusing on hospital occupancy rather than on new case numbers. Under the previous rules, several regions – including Rome – would have already seen partial curbs reintroduced from this weekend.

ALSO READ: Blood samples point to early COVID-19 infections in Italy

Spain

Spain's vaccine rollout has begun to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections and the country is getting ready for a booster third dose, Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Friday.

Spain had registered a major growth in the number of diagnosed cases per 100,000 people over the past few weeks. The number jumped fivefold between mid-June and mid-July.

The vaccination rollout has gathered speed and Spain now has the third-highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the world, with 64 percent of its population having had one or two doses, setting it behind only Canada and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the country this week will begin to donate 7.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, primarily to Latin America.

Speaking in an interview from Los Angeles with CNN en Español, Sanchez said the vaccines would be distributed through the COVAX vaccine-sharing program throughout the rest of the year. He added that his government has asked Cuba to launch reforms to help its people.

Argentina

Argentina registered 13,500 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, raising the national count to 4,812,351, the health ministry said.

The ministry said 267 more deaths were reported, bringing the toll to 103,074.

"Yesterday (Wednesday), Argentina covered 50.41 percent of the total population with at least one vaccine dose," the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Argentine government has complained to Russia over delays in delivering its Sputnik V vaccine, saying the lack of supplies has left the South American country in a “very critical situation,” putting the government at risk.

The government sent a letter to Russian state entity RDIF dated July 7, in which it said it urgently needed component 2 doses of the vaccine, which are different from the first dose, and warned that the supply agreement was at risk.

Health Minister Carla Vizzotti acknowledged the letter to radio station El Destape on Thursday and said it was common practice to push suppliers to help ensure contracts were met. The "pressure" had helped speed things up, she added.

The minister said some 500 liters of the second component of the Sputnik V vaccine would arrive in the coming weeks, enabling domestic production of a further 880,000 second doses by local firm Laboratorios Richmond. More would arrive after that.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Thursday reported 16,244 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, its highest daily jump since the end of January, and 419 more fatalities.

Those figures swelled the country's tallies to 2,709,739 infections and 237,626 deaths.

Sweden

Sweden will buy 4.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Sanofi to be delivered mainly this year, the government said.

Belgium

Belgium has now fully vaccinated more than half of its entire population, according to official data.

Almost 68 percent of Belgium’s population has received at least one dose. That’s equal to about 83 percent of the adult population.

Portugal

The Portuguese government announced Thursday that the state of calamity, the country’s highest response to a national emergency, will be extended until Aug 8, as the country hit a four-month high of daily new COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Portugal on Thursday reported 3,622 new cases, the highest since early February, and 16 additional deaths, raising the total to 943,244 cases and 17,248 fatalties, health authorities said.

The highest response to disaster situations was enacted on May 1 under the Portuguese Civil Protection Law and has been renewed repeatedly since then.

Minister of the Presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva said Thursday that 47 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that only with the "mobilization of all sectors will it be possible to recover and rebuild the country" after the pandemic.

Brazil

Brazil has registered 1,412 more COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising its pandemic death toll to 547,016, the health ministry said on Thursday.

The cumulative caseload rose to 19,523,711 after 49,757 new cases were detected, the ministry said.

As of Wednesday, nearly 128 million people in Brazil have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with close to 36 million people fully vaccinated.  

Botswana

Botswana's President, Mokgweetsi Masisi on Thursday urged citizens to get COVID-19 vaccines when their turn came, stating that all of the vaccines had been tested and approved by the appropriate authorities.

He warned citizens about the new, easily transmissible Delta variant. Masisi is currently touring the country, stopping at vaccine distribution centers to see how the rollout is going.

Clinics have seen an increase in the number of people since the government announced the phase two vaccination rollout which began on July 22 for those aged 45 to 54, according to Keboneetse Mmati, Principal Registered Nurse Midwife at the Bokaa clinic.

In order to accommodate the large turnout, the Ministry of Health announced on Thursday it has decided to extend the hours of operation for vaccination centers in Gaborone. 

Tanzania

Authorities in Tanzania's Zanzibar on Thursday officially launched the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with a cabinet minister receiving the first jab.

Nassor Ahmed Mazrui, Zanzibar's minister of health, social welfare, elderly, gender and children, received the vaccine at the Lumumba Health Center.

"Vaccination in Zanzibar is now official. I am happy to be vaccinated against COVID-19," said Mazrui, adding that China's Sinovac vaccines are safe.

Speaking shortly after his vaccination, Mazrui urged frontline workers to be vaccinated. He said the vaccination of frontline workers should be followed by the vaccination of people aged 60 years and older, restating that vaccination was voluntary.

He said Zanzibar has secured a batch of Sinovac vaccines donated from China, adding that another batch of Sinovac vaccines granted by the Chinese government will also arrive soon.

Cuba

Cuba registered a new record of daily COVID-19 infections with 7,745 cases, bringing the total to 308,599, the Ministry of Public Health said on Thursday.

The toll rose to 2,137 as 65 more deaths were reported.

Of the total number of infections recorded in the last day, 37 were imported cases.

According to the health ministry, the Caribbean nation also set a record for pediatric cases in one day with 1,351 infections, in line with the upward trend in July.

Croatia

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced on Thursday additional, stricter epidemiological measures in four Dalmatian counties as COVID-19 infections rise.

The new measures limit mass gatherings in order to prevent the new spike in infections from jeopardizing the tourist season.

"After a very good nine weeks, we have a significant increase in the number of infected people for the first time and we must be careful," Plenkovic said at a government session.

Decisions on holding events attended by larger numbers of people will be made on a case-by-case basis at local civil protection headquarters to avoid misunderstandings.

Plenkovic said that by Thursday, 1.6 million people, or 46 percent of Croatia's adult population, have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. He said that 94 percent of those hospitalized were not fully vaccinated.

In the past 24 hours, Croatia saw 179 new cases and one death, according to the Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ). Currently, there are 918 active cases, including 124 in hospitals and 14 on ventilators.  

Namibia

The organizers of Namibia's annual tourism expo, Namibia Media Holdings (NMH), have announced for the first time in 23 years the cancellation of the event, an executive said Thursday.

The cancellation is in support of the country's drive to have more Namibians vaccinated by September 2021, hence their decision to partner with the Health Ministry by setting up more vaccination centers across the country, rather than hosting the expo.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Thursday 1,402 new COVID-19 cases, taking the caseload in the North African country to 567,758.

The number of recoveries increased by 1,744 to 538,370 while the death toll rose by 19 to 9,517.

A total of 11,568,127 people have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 9,739,655 having received two doses.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported 1,169 new COVID-19 infections and 21 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 479,784 cases and 21,428 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health said on Thursday.

In its daily report, the ministry also announced another 9,349 deaths considered to be related to COVID-19, but not verified.

According to the ministry, infections in the last day were mostly concentrated in the province of Pichincha, with 517 cases.

Quito, the capital and epicenter of the pandemic in the country, accounted for 486 of the new infections in the province.

Ireland

There is a sharp rise in travel-related COVID-19 cases in Ireland and people should not consider international travel at this time unless they are fully vaccinated, an Irish public health official said Thursday.

Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer of the Irish Department of Health, said that more than 800 cases reported in the country over the last two weeks were related to overseas travel.

From July 5 to 18, Ireland recorded 676 cases in people who had returned from overseas travel in the previous fortnight, including 317 people from Spain, 188 from Britain and 171 from Portugal, he said on Twitter.

In another development, Paul Reid, head of Health Service Executive, a state agency responsible for public health services in Ireland, said the Delta variant accounted for 90 percent of the COVID-19 cases in Ireland.

Health authorities on Thursday reported another 1,189 cases, bringing the tally to nearly 290,000.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia has registered 146 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 278,105 as of Thursday evening, the health ministry said.

The toll went up by three to 4,363 while the number of recoveries increased by 104 to 262,692.

Hungary

Hungary's government has decided to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for healthcare workers as part of efforts to contain the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on Friday.

“Already there are certain vaccines that are mandatory for people working in the healthcare sector … we have now extended this to the coronavirus," Orban said.

Empty shelves and signs on the soft drinks aisle of a Sainsbury's store in Rowley Regis in the West Midlands, England, on July 22, 2021. (MATTHEW COOPER / PA VIA AP)

UK

The UK government is rolling out daily COVID-19 testing to allow workers in supermarket depots and food manufacturers to avoid self-isolation, amid concerns that mass staff shortages are threatening crucial supplies.

As many as 10,000 workers at about 500 key sites will no longer need to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with a positive case, Environment Secretary George Eustice told broadcasters on Friday.

Separately, other critical sectors in England including energy, waste, water, border control and emergency services will be able to replace self-isolation with daily testing for a limited number of workers who are double-vaccinated.

Businesses from stores to car factories have reported disruption after hundreds of thousands of people were contacted – or “pinged” – by the National Health Service coronavirus app and told to isolate. Latest figures from the NHS showed 608,000 people were notified last week, up from 356,000 two weeks before.

Images published in newspapers showed empty supermarket shelves on Thursday, leading ministers to express concern over potential shortages of goods. The government appealed to the public not to panic buy food.

An interval of eight to 10 weeks between doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech boosts the effectiveness of the two-shot regimen compared with a shorter interval, a UK study found.

“Eight weeks is probably the sweet spot,” in terms of the trade-off between getting as many people fully vaccinated as quickly as possible and allowing the population to produce higher antibody levels, professor Susanna Dunachie, the study lead from the University of Oxford, said at a briefing Thursday.

“This latest study provides further evidence that this interval results in a strong immune response and supports our decision,” UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said in a statement.

Neutralizing antibody levels were twice as high after the 10-week interval as with the three-week span, including against Delta and all other variants of concern tested. The more protracted regime also improved the response of helper T cells, which support immune memory. The findings haven’t been peer-reviewed.

A drawback to the longer interval, however, was a decline in antibody levels between the first and second doses, in particular against the delta variant, the study found. T cells were well maintained between the shots.